Table of Contents
Part I: The Nature of Time
TIME: THE CULTURAL ACCOUNT
is progressively putting more and more emphasis on the material
things of life. This is a sad
repudiation of our Christian heritage which is pre-eminently
spiritual in its ethos. We have sent
missionaries to other people with the intent of converting them
to a more spiritual way of life: but it often
became apparent that these same people to whom we sent our missionaries
actually took a more spiritual
view of life than we do ourselves. We assumed that the basis
of this spiritual emphasis was in their case
mere superstition, and undoubtedly this assessment has frequently
been correct. Nevertheless, while we
found them poor in this world's goods, they often turned out
to be oddly well-to-do in the non-material
aspects of their culture: and in spite of their poverty they
usually found meaning in life where we seem to
have lost it.
World views contrasted
Now, anthropologists have
observed that many cultures of non-Western tradition do not bifurcate
world into two kingdoms: the material and the spiritual, the
natural and the supernatural, the secular and
the sacred. Western man tends to make a clear distinction in
which the material world is taken to be the
real world and the spiritual world is taken to be a fantasy,
a creation of our ignorance. Primitive cultures,
and many of the high cultures of ancient times, on the whole
took a very different view of things. They saw
the spirit world as everywhere interpenetrating the material
world and, in fact, regulating it. It was for this
reason that, in the case of an accident, they customarily asked
not "How did it happen?" but "Who did it?"
Events were not analyzed intellectually: they were experienced
as personal confrontations. They felt
themselves to be citizens of what to them was a kind of 'commonwealth'
of animated beings. Many of them
still feel this way. If what one reads is true, the Hopi pre-eminently
view their relationship to the world as
such. What we call the
inanimated forces of nature (with a small n ), to them
are the animated wills of Nature (with a capital N ).
Such people have always been humbler in the presence of elemental
brash in their attitude towards the world around them, more aware
of the comparative impotence of man
when his behaviour is contrasted with that of animals. The relationship
between man and his world was not,
or is not, a me/it relationship (as it is with us) but
a me/thou relationship.
As an illustration: in Egypt
where annual records of the levels of the Nile river were kept
from earliest times, the Pharaoh made gifts to the Nile every
year at about the time it was due to rise. When they cast their
sacrifices into the river, they also threw in a document stating,
in the form of a contract, the Nile's
obligations. The important thing was always to be in tune with
Nature rather than on top of it.
The individual felt part
and parcel of the universe, in sympathy with it, able and willing
to deal with it on a person-to-person basis. In this personal
relatedness he had no difficulty in seeing himself as surviving
beyond the grave. Nature survives the apparent death of winter
by spring, why should man not survive
burial by resurrection? It was only when the animate Wills of
Nature were turned into inanimate forces, and
when the characters of these wills were reduced to mere
characteristics of things, that man followed suit
and found himself reduced to a mere thing among things. The responding
soul was turned into a reacting
thing, nothing but physics and chemistry.
Whereas native people animate Nature
and so relate to it on a personal basis, our de-animation of
destroyed this sense of relationship and left man feeling orphaned
in a hostile universe. This sense of
alienation has led Western man to seek the recovery of relatedness
by reducing himself to the same
inanimate status, thereby becoming a mere cog in an impersonal
machine, but at least part and parcel of it
all once again.
We have, in short, robbed ourselves
of any spiritual significance. We have become bundles of
electrochemical reactions instead of vital, conscious, animated
souls capable of active communion with God and his world. Where
other cultures have maintained their sense of fraternity with
their living world of
trees, stones, rivers, mountains, sun and moon and stars, and
mother earth, we have come to treat these
things as material objects and then sought relatedness with them
by reducing ourselves to the status of
objects. It may be that either way is unrealistic, but man in
these other cultures has probably done less
harm to the dignity of his own being.
these two rather different philosophies of life have produced
what might be called an unexpected
spin-off which has not been given sufficient thought. The more
deeply embedded we become in the world of
things, the more profoundly conscious we tend to become of time.
One cannot have a pervasive concern
with the three dimensions of space without being equally locked
into the fourth dimension of time. It is not
an accident that Western man has expended so much energy perfecting
clocks that parcel out time in
smaller and smaller fragments upon which he places a more and
more precise economic value. We have
thus come to quantify almost the whole of life. Never in human
history was man so conscious of the
importance of material possessions and of the necessity of preserving
physical life, while paying less and
less attention to its spiritual values. And never in human history
was man so concerned to keep a precise
record of the passing of time.
Other cultures had clocks and,
like the Chinese, they gave much attention to improving their
many ingenious ways. But they were not intended to be read as
marking fragments of time (seconds or
minutes) for the individual but only for the co-ordination of
events involving groups of people. And
ninety-nine percent of the people felt no need to possess such
devices nor sought to regulate their lives by
them except on occasions of community effort. The ordinary man
had a highly flexible sense of the flow of
time, this flexibility depending entirely on the importance of
the task engaged in. When there was no task
that had to be done, there was no counting of time, and no
sense of wasting it either. Time lost did not mean
for them things lost, money lost, progress lost in short,
some of life lost as though life was parcelled out
and ended with death when time ran out.
There is a real bond between things
and time, because things occupy space, and space and time are
inextricably bound together. And those whose philosophy is materialistic
are accordingly far more time
conscious. This applies not merely to certain individuals within
a culture, but to the whole culture itself.
When the ethos of a culture is materialistic, that culture is
also likely to be strongly time-conscious. Many
cultures throughout history which, unlike ourselves, have attached
far less importance to things, have also attached far less importance
to time. This is true of all primitive cultures. Such cultures
do not even think of
themselves as living
in time at all: they actually live in eternity.
People who are absorbed in the
material world are absorbed in a temporal world: those who hold
lightly hold time lightly. Those who are unwilling to
share their things find it difficult to share their time.
Time is money: which is another way of saying time is things.
Societies which bury all the treasures
and material possessions of the dead with the deceased are in
much closer in spirit to the child of God whose citizenship is
in heaven and who lives in eternity, for such
cultures are far less bound to the things of this world and do
not find it difficult to relinquish them. During the early settling
of the New World, many White men discovered that the graves of
native people frequently
contained valuables such as gold and silver, and they became
chronic grave robbers. American Indians
were often reluctant to move to new territories (sometimes even
to better ones) because they could not
bear the thought of the desecration of their burial grounds which
they quickly found out was likely to happen
as soon as the White man moved in.
It might be supposed that such
people buried precious metals with their dead simply because
they were not so "precious" in their sight. There was
a reasonable abundance of gold and silver and it cost them little
nothing to collect it. But we know now that later on when such
precious metals became more scarce, they
still buried items which were not as accessible for instance,
perfectly good sewing machines were buried
with dead women. Such items were of considerable practical importance
once they formed part of their
culture and they could not be easily replaced. Yet they did not
hang on to them. They buried them, as they
had buried precious metals. Sometimes a perfectly good hunting
knife of hardened steel obtained from a
White man would be buried with the dead owner, and one must conclude
that the economics of such "waste"
were overridden even when they were irreplaceable.
There is much evidence from studies
made by anthropologists during the last century that primitive
people do not hold the physical world to have the same paramount
importance in their lives as we do. As a
consequence they do not mark time as we do either, and perhaps
even more significantly they have not
treasured physical survival as we have.
Man straddles both worlds
the physical and the spiritual even in his fallen state.
The physical world is
not merely a world of three dimensional space occupied by things,
but a world also marked by a sense of
time. The spiritual world is inevitably, from this side of the
grave, a projection of our space-time world --
only we somehow conceive of its space as being qualitatively
different rather than quantitatively different,
and its time as being
something which might appropriately be called eternal
rather than merely extensive.
The Old Testament strongly reflects
an awareness of the spiritual nature of this world. The Hebrew
poets did this in the Psalms, calling upon all nature to worship
the Creator in a spiritual way, inviting the mountainsto skip
like little children with sudden joy (Psalm 114:4)(1) and the floods to clap
their hands (Psalm 98:8).(2) We think of this as fantasy.
Primitive people would not.
They see a constant interaction between the visible and the invisible,
nature and supernature, between time and eternity, between the
animate and the inanimate. These two
worlds do not form two kingdoms but one, and the more important
world in certain respects is the
supernatural -- more important because it is more difficult to
control and therefore less predictable, and
more important because it is constant while this world is always
Living, as such people do, in daily
awareness of this non-material world, they normally have a different
time sense. The idea of cutting up time into segments of equal
length and with more and more precise and
diminutive divisions seems to them pointless. To get a native
to use a watch in order to keep an appointment
more accurately, or to report for work on a regular time basis,
seems to him unreasonable. He is not clock
conscious but event conscious: and for him 'event' usually means
'community event', shared event, and
therefore corporate experience. To own a watch is fine as a prestige
symbol, but to be in bondage to it is a
form of slavery no sensible man should allow. The idea of an
alarm clock that wakes a man while his soul is
still wandering abroad in his dreams is the height of folly.
The rudely awakened individual will be in danger
of walking around for the rest of the day without any soul until
sleep overtakes him again and his soul can
finally catch up. All day he is a kind of half-there person.
Concept of time reflected in grammar
Non-Western man's sense of
time is thus apt to be very different, and it is in fact nearer
to the truth perhaps.
We know now (since Einstein) that time does not have a fixed
flow rate either in the personally experienced
sense or even in the absolute clock-bound sense. Natives have
'known' this for years. For us it is a very
1. "The mountains skipped like rams,
and the little hills like lambs." Psalm 114:4.
2. "Let the floods clap their hands: let the hills be joyful
together." Psalm 98:8.
based upon the strictest and most rational interpretation of
scientific laws which are
now being experimentally verified in remarkable ways. It is apparent
that time does not flow as a steady
current. Our clocks keep time with our time, not our time with
our clocks. Native people have for centuries
made time coincide with events, not events with time. The clock
is set by their activities, not their activities
by the clock.
Because events do not happen in
time but time is determined by events, there is a real sense
in which future time is simply non-existent since future events
have not yet happened. Western man is very future
conscious. We live in the future for this evening, for
to-morrow, for the weekend, for when we grow up, for
when we get old, for the time when our children will take over
from us, for when we are gone. Non-Western
man has tended to live now, in the present: indeed, so
indifferent to the future is he apt to be that we
characterize him as improvident. We ourselves take out all kinds
of policies to cover future eventualities
sickness insurance, unemployment insurance, annuities of all
kinds for old age and life insurance for after
death. The future which may never happen eclipses the present,
and we think this is proper and normal.
Other cultures have even refused to speak of the future unless
they are so certain about what will happen
that it can be spoken of as actually happening now.
The Hebrew language of the Old
Testament has no future tense in its verbal system like Latin
or French. In Latin "I love" is amo; "I
shall love" is its future tense: amabo. French has
its future tense: English manages
it by using the compound form, "I will. . ." or "I
shall. . ." and so on. But like the languages of many primitive
people, the future is not specifically expressed in Hebrew. If
one wishes to say "I shall kill," one uses a verbal
form which really means "I am killing." The
Hebrew people were quite aware of this and consciously made
certain modifications in the rules when speaking of the activities
of God. Man's intentions for the future are
precarious and he cannot strictly speak of what he is going to
do in the future, so in that sense he does not
need a future tense. God, on the other hand, can speak with absolute
certainty of the future with such assurance, in fact, that
the future is a fait accompli. Thus God's declared intentions
for the future are often
expressed in Hebrew not in the present tense but in the past
tense. When God speaks of what He will do in the future, man
can refer to it as already done. When man speaks of what he intends
in the future he has to
put it the present tense,
as though to say this is his present intention. Many non-Western
people do just this, and it becomes highly disconcerting to the
Westerner who assumes that the speaker is looking at time as
he does himself. A good illustration of the confusion which such
ways of thinking can create is given by Edward Mack who related
the following incident:(3)
desert traveller went with a missionary friend to visit one of
the 10,000 mud villages in the
Valley of the Nile. The night was not a restful
one in a native home. The next morning the
traveller wished to return as soon as possible
to the boat on the Nile. The missionary however,
knowing the demands of courtesy, insisted that
they must not go until after breakfast but
expressed the hope that breakfast might be expedited.
"Oh," said the host, "breakfast is just
ready." One hour and a half after that time
by the traveller's watch, a match was struck to kindle
the fire to cook the breakfast. And sometime later
still, a cow was driven into the court of the
house to be milked to provide the milk to cook
the rice to make the breakfast. Was the host
untruthful? Not at all; he did not reckon by time,
but by events. He had no way of determining the
passage of time. When he said, "Breakfast
is just ready," he meant it was the next thing in the
household economy, that they would do nothing else
until that thing was done, and that
everything done was to that end. That is to say,
he reckoned only by events.
Views of relationship of time and event
It may be thought that this
attitude towards the passage of time is evidence of a primitive
mentality which we have long since outgrown. But this is not
really so. The Greeks themselves never seem to have entirely
abandoned the view that there are really only two ways of viewing
events. An event is either finished or in process(4). They saw all action as
being either imperfect (by which they meant not yet complete
currently in effect) or perfect (that is, complete and
finished). In short, there were only two tenses, though
they embroidered them in different ways. Similarly, the Hopi
gardener who intends to hoe his garden
sometime in the future is already hoeing it, and he will tell
you he is hoeing it -- not that he will be hoeing it
in the future. He does not see the future as having any strict
reality. Such people do not really think of the
past as an expanse of time as though it still had a real existence
like a length of tape wound on the reel to
3. Mack, Edward, "Chronology in the Old
Testament," Bibliotheca Sacra, vol.1, 1831, p.644.
4. See a reflection of this in H. E. Dana and J. R. Mantey, A
Manual of Greek New Testament, New York, Macmillan, 1955,
the left while the future
is a similar length already having a reality which is merely
waiting to be unreeled from the right. They are aware only that
NOW has real existence and that even IT is only a boundary, not
Augustine shared this view.
He questioned whether it is possible to talk meaningfully of
a period of a
hundred years, for example. He asked, "Is a hundred years
a long time? It is a good question! Is it a long
time? Who can ever answer it, since a hundred years never exists
. . ." Thus Augustine said:(5)
of all, see whether there can be a hundred present years. If
the first of those years is
going on, it is present but ninety-nine are still
in the future and so they do not exist. But if the
second year is going on, one is already gone, another
is present, and the rest are in the future.
And this is so no matter which of the intervening
years of this century we take to be the present
one. For that reason there cannot be a hundred
carried his argument one step further. He said:
whether even the one year that is going on to be itself present.
If the first month in it is
going on the rest are future; if the second is,
then the first is now past and the rest do not yet
exist. Therefore, one year which is now going on
is not present as a whole and, if it is not
present as a whole, then the year is not present.
. . .
neither is the month which is now going on present, but only
And so he continued
his argument with relentless logic down to the hour and the minute,
in each of which
only the immediate moment has any reality. "That alone is
what we may call the present and this too flies
over from the future into the past so quickly that it does not
extend over the slightest instant. For if it has any
extension, it is again divided into past and future. But the
present has no length at all." It is obvious
therefore that we cannot speak of past time or future time as
having any reality. The tape, of which we spoke
above, which we assume is unwinding through the vortex of our
consciousness, is not doing anything of the
kind unless we equate time with events, or
more strictly with the succession of events. It does not
5. See Vernon J. Bourke, The Essential
Augustine, New American Library, New York, Mentor Books,
stand apart as a thing
in which events happen, but is rather created by the events themselves
so that if
nothing happened there would be no time. It is important to get
this concept clearly in mind.
Augustine was wise enough to observe
that creation was not in time like a bleep which is written
on a tape that is already unwinding, nor a single exposure on
a film which is already running through the camera.
Creation was with time, or better still, time was created
when the Universe was created. (6) Time is
something which does not exist in its own right. It is not one
of the "givens" of reality. This was known to
Augustine and to others as well in those ancient times. (7) It is only recently that
it has been re-discovered.
Einstein put it this way:(8)
If you don't
take my words too seriously, I would say this: If we assume that
all matter were to
disappear from the world, then, before relativity,
one believed that space and time would
continue existing in an empty world. But according
to the Theory of Relativity, if matter (and its
motion) disappeared, there would no longer be any
space or time [my emphasis].
The Hopi Indians
viewed the matter in precisely the same way. They did not see
how it was possible to speak of ten days! One can have ten men
at one time, but never ten days at one time. And so they considered
the phrase inept and didn't use it. (9) They might say, "after the tenth day. . . ."
but they would not speak of a
period of ten days. The past has gone, the future is not yet:
only NOW has reality. To many Indians even the
past is still present, time does not flow by at all. To
this extent they live in the always-now. The Hopi, like
many other cultures which have not grown up within the traditions
of the Western world, were far more
conscious of their oneness with nature and were far less absorbed
with things or with time. They are nearer
to Luther's concept of eternity as a reality which is totum
simul, a phrase which is perhaps best
represented in English by the words "the whole thing at
Eternity is a unique kind of now-ness that
persists. The past is not past: the past is present still.
6. Augustine: De Civitate Dei, XI.6.
7. For example, Philo Judaeus (20 B.C.39 A.D.), "On
the Account of the World's Creation Given by Moses" (De
Opificio Mundi) in The Loeb Classical Library, Philo, translated
by F.H. Colson and G.H. Whitaker, Cambridge, Massachusetts, U.S.A.,
Harvard University Press, 1971, vol. 1, sect. 7, p.21.
8. Einstein: quoted by Philipp Frank, Einstein, His Life and
Times, New York, Knopf, 1947, chap. 8, sect. 5, p.178.
9. Whorf, Benjamin L., Language, Thought and Reality,
New York, Wiley, 1956, p.140.
10. Torrance, Thomas F., Space, Time and Incarnation,
Oxford (Eng.), Oxford University Press, 1969, p.34. Also F. H.
Brabant, Time and Eternity in Christian Thought, London,
Longmans Green, 1937, p.37; E.M. Plass, What Luther Says,
St. Louis, Concordia, 1972, Selection 16, 4244.
Dakota Indians have this kind of time perspective.
The world in which they live is entirely a present one. They
would agree with Augustine when he said,(11)
now plain and clear is that neither future nor past things are
in existence and that it is
not correct to say there are three periods of time:
past, present, and future. Perhaps it would be
proper to say there are three periods of time:
the present of things past, the present of things
present, and the present of things future.
only the present has any reality. A few years ago a full-blooded
Dakota Indian girl with a Ph.D. wrote to a friend and said, "You
see, we Indians live in eternity."(12) She explained that the Dakota Indian was not striving
to get somewhere in this world, or the next; he was already there.
Relationship of time, events, and space
What is said of time is thought
about space also. The Australian aborigines have no difficulty
at certain times of the year in believing they can be in two
different places at once, an idea that to us seems clearly
impossible. Two branches of a family with a shared totem will
ceremonially eat this totem animal once a
year to re-unite themselves with their ancestral roots. Though
the two branches may be hundreds of miles
apart and have each captured a specimen of their totem animal
and slaughtered it, they will both believe
they have captured and eaten the very same animal, not simply
the same species of animal, but the same
particular animal. There is no contradiction to this in their
mind. Both they and the animal can be in two
different places at the same time. It reminds one of the statement
made by the Lord (John 3:13(13)) in which
He speaks of Himself as actually being "in heaven,"
though also on earth. And in keeping with this elimination of
distinction between the two worlds, the same Lord could speak
of Himself as existing at this very moment "before Abraham
was" (John 8:58).(14) It is impossible by our logic to reconcile such conceptions
of space and time but this is only because we are culturally
bound to a view which is only partially correct.
11. Augustine, Confessions, Bk.XI.xx.26.
12. Miss Deloria to R. Clyde McCone, "Evolutionary Time:
A Moral Issue" in A Symposium on Creation, Henry
Morris et al., Grand Rapids, Baker, 1968, p.144.
13. "No man has yet ascended up into heaven but he that
came down from heaven, even the Son of man, who is in heaven".
14. "Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you,
Before Abraham was, I am." John 8:58.
The native sense of space is not like that of an enormous
box with the top and bottom missing and the sides knocked out,
within which discrete things are separately positioned apart
from one another: and their sense of time is not that of a river
flowing by, a river which is in existence before it reaches us
and continues on after it has passed us. The native creates both
his own space and his own time by his own experience.
Evans-Pritchard, who for many years studied and lived with a
Nilotic black people called the Nuer, had to
develop a different time sense in order to enter into their way
of thinking. They do not keep time with their
clocks, their clocks keep time with them. As he put it:(15)
daily tasks of the kraal are the points of reference for each
day, and for longer periods than
a day the points are the phases of other recurrent
activity such as weeding or the seasonal
movement of men and their herds. The passage of
time is the succession of activities and their
relations to one another. All sorts of interesting
Time has not the same value at one season
of the year that it has at another. Since the Nuer
have, properly speaking, no abstract of time reckoning
they do not think of time as something
actual which passes, which can be wasted, can"be
saved, and so forth; and they do not have to
co-ordinate their activities with an abstract passage
of time, because their point of reference
is the activities themselves.
Thus, in a certain month one makes the first fishing dams
and forms the first cattle camps, and
since one is doing these things it must be that
month or thereabouts. One does not make
fishing dams because it is November; it is November
because one is making fishing dams.
events are not reckoned as short or long passages of intervening
time. What intervals of time there are, are "measured"
by the importance of the events that bracket the interval. And
as for an
event itself, if it is very important it takes up a lot of time
regardless of what the clock may happen to say.
Even the order in which events are remembered and reported will
be the order of their importance, not
necessarily the order of their historical sequence.
View of time reflected in social codes
A culture's particular sense
of time can have some remarkable repercussions on their methods
15. Evans-Pritchard, E. E., Social Anthropology,
London, Cohen & West, 1951, p.103.
social problems. If
the past is of no consequence for the present, a crime or a misdemeanor
done long ago
has no present significance from a legal standpoint. It no longer
counts. Suppose in a South African gold
mine a native employee is late and is docked so much "time"
as a penalty. If the penalty is not imposed at
once, it will strike him as a gross injustice to penalize him
at the end of the week. It requires a basic
re-orientation of time sense for such an employee, freshly introduced
into a clock conscious world, to
accept a delayed penalty as just.
It is not without parallel in our
own culture, as C. S. Lewis commented:(16)
We have a
strange illusion that mere time cancels sin. I have heard others,
and I have heard
myself, recounting cruelties and falsehoods committed
in boyhood as if they were no concern of
the present speakers, and even with laughter. But
mere time does nothing either to the fact or
to the guilt of the sin. The guilt is not washed
out by time but by repentance and the blood of
How much time
must elapse until an event which has moral implications becomes
an event without moral implications? Can guilt be cancelled at
all by the mere passage of time?
Admittedly as an accommodation to the
fact that we are time bound because we are space bound, it seems
that the mere passage of time must be allowed to have some bearing
in the matter; and so we have the
Statute of Limitations as a necessary accommodation. Our
time is limited and will run out so that, as we
have less and less of it remaining to us in this life, it becomes
in a sense increasingly worth more and more
to us. Experience shows that to delay the penalty unduly may
impose an unfair hardship because what at the
time might have been a just imposition becomes, as our time begins
to run out, less and less just, simply
because what time remains to us becomes increasingly more valuable.
It is a kind of progressive inflation.
Thus a man earning a high salary
could be reasonably expected to pay a penalty that at the time
represented ten percent of his current income. But if the same
penalty is imposed upon him ten years later when he has retired
and his current income is not a quarter of what it then was,
the burden of the same
16. Lewis, C. S., The Problem of Pain,
New York, Macmillan, 1962, p.61.
penalty becomes unbearable.
It is commonly agreed as unjust to impose a penalty after many
elapsed which change the circumstances. It is true that the same
delay in some cases may place the guilty
party in a much better position to pay so that the penalty is
reduced in its effect. However, the prime object
of the system is really intended to protect the injured party,
but limitations are imposed in an effort to
balance injustice to either party. As Paton and Derham
"It is unsettling to allow no time limit
to legal claims. . . . The small percentage of cases in which
there may be injustice is outweighed by the legal
interests in establishing security."
Such considerations are relevant
only while we remain within the present space-time framework.
of the justice of God in the light of eternity in which the present
does not recede into the past, such
limitations surely do not apply. Here the time factor becomes
irrelevant, for guilt is present not past. In so
far as heaven belongs to a timeless order of things, time lapse
is not going to be relevant in determining the
measure of guilt or of innocence.
The Christian: two worlds two times
When a man becomes a child of God
he is placed in a position of living in two different worlds.
He cannot yet escape the world of time and space, and in his
horizontal man-to-man relationships he must accept the
consequences of the framework within which his social life is
lived. But in so far as he has been translated
into the Kingdom of God's dear Son and has become a citizen of
eternity, to this extent in his man-to-God
vertical relationships he lives within a different framework.
There is a sense in which his life becomes
timeless, the new man ceases to grow old even though hopefully
he may mature. There is a sense in which
he lives in heaven even though he does not altogether escape
the bonds of the material world. The
community of the saints is a society of people who share together
this dual sense of time, and it is important
that we should not isolate ourselves from this new society, for
membership here is everlasting: we are only
passing through this world. The Lord prayed for us, not
that we might be taken out of it but kept while we
are in it (John 17:15).(18)
17. Paton, G. W. and David P. Derham, A
Textbook of Jurisprudence, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1972,
18. "I pray not that you should take them out of the world,
but that you should keep them from the evil. . . ." John
Is there only a subjective
sense of time?
Copyright © 1988 Evelyn White. All rights
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In summary it can be said that
any culture which places a major emphasis on the accumulation
of things will tend to be pre-occupied with the value of time.
It will cut up time, parcel it out, reify it as quantifiable,
give it a measurable existence in its own right which it probably
does not in fact possess. Our culture has done this
pre-eminently. Many other cultures do it scarcely at all.
Thus we have to recognize that
a different culture with a different ethos may have a different
time. We also need to recognize that as Christians our sense
of time has been modified, because Christian
culture is different in its ethos and thus also in its perception
But quite apart from "cultural"
influences, we also have to recognize that it is not merely a
modified sense of the passage of time (which is subjective) that
has to be taken into account. It is now known that time itself
does not flow past us at a constant rate even when viewed objectively.
It is as though the tape that is
running through the recorder from the future into the past can
actually run more slowly or more quickly
under certain circumstances and perhaps even stop running
altogether! This is not a subjective
deceleration or acceleration, but an objective phenomenon, a
phenomenon that is (as we shall see)
The implications of such a possibility